I was delighted to launch my latest album, ‘Among the Flowers’ at the Maldon Folk Festival. I’ve played with it a bit since then and added a beautiful Scottish lullaby, Dream Angus. I thought I’d like to share with you how this album came about. It’s quite a tale really. I’ve heard it said that life is not a straight line, but a spiral. We come back to the same place but from a different angle, a higher perspective hopefully.
Please listen as you read this.
This album was born of grief. Making it helped me work through a very difficult time. In a 3-year period I lost many who were dear to me. But first, let me give you a little background, and tell you about Mia…
Many years ago, Mia and I were fast friends. I loved her very much. She was from Holland, had lived in Ireland, and then came to Australia, where we met. She was feisty, kind, very funny, and very, very wise. One day I asked her to come to my house and sing her favourite traditional songs for me, and I recorded her. It was just for fun, lots of wine, no music, just her voice. I wanted to learn some of these songs and I knew Mia knew at least a million of them. So away we went. It was a grand day, and we made our recording. I was using a multi-track cassette recorder (this is important…), state of the art stuff at the time, so the recording we made could only be played on a similar machine. I intended to make something out of it but never quite got around to it.
Not too long after, Mia returned to her homeland, broke my heart, but I understood, and we stayed in touch for many years. We lost touch for a while, but she found me on facebook and we picked up again as though we were just moments ago laughing and talking face to face. That’s how it is with deep friendships isn’t it. I was even able to see her in Holland when I travelled to the UK. I will never forget her beautiful face smiling at me though the crowd of weary and bewildered airport travellers, none more so than me, with her arms outstretched to me. A blessing for which I am deeply grateful.
Then one day her daughter emailed me. I was thrilled to see Mia in my in-box but I quickly realized that it was her daughter writing to me. At the first 2 or 3 words I could no longer read, I fell to the floor, I knew what the email said. Mia had died, a sudden and fatal aneurism. Her family and friends were devastated, and so was I.
Once I collected myself somewhat, I remembered that day we made a tape. I pulled my house apart to look for it and behold…. I still had it. But…
Now, skipping backwards for just a moment, some years prior I had bought a multi-track cassette recorder to remaster an old album. I got it on ebay, won the auction by 50 cents at the very last second! So this was the very machine needed to hear Mia again. But it had never worked very reliably, it was under the bed for years after I did the job I bought it for. And I didn’t know whether, after 20 years, Mia’s tape would be playable at all.
Low and behold, the machine worked, and after many attempts, I managed to get the tape to play and I transferred the sound onto my music computer. Wow, such a series of miracles so far, and to hear her voice was just beyond wonderful. The tape was a bit rough, some corruption understandably, background noise etc, but hey. Mia had a lovely voice, not a trained or polished singer, but such expressiveness, beautiful tone, and enormous heart….Mmm…I wondered…
Listening to the tape I realised I had something very good to work with, and realised also that I had quite an amazing opportunity. So I set to work. I carefully crafted music around her singing, which was done without any accompaniment on the day, and I created an album around her. It took me a year. I wanted to make her something she would love and be proud of. Skite about. For her, for her family, for me. When it was finished I sent it to her daughter.
Mia taught me so much. Even now I will think of something she said to me and smile, laugh out loud, or be duly chastened. Along with the gift of a fine friendship, she gave me connection with so many wonderful songs. So in some ways Among the Flowers is a tribute to her. It is also a tribute to enduring love. Songs, and flowers, are perhaps our truest friends. They stand with us, celebrate with us, comfort and teach us, and bear witness to every triumph and sorrow. When I was about a title and artwork for this album, I was thinking of graves, cemeteries, etc. But I didn’t want the album to be gloomy. It’s not a sad album. Then suddenly I saw that what cemeteries abound with are flowers. I began to think that, as we all surely will, one day we shall lay down among the flowers, among friends. Mia helped me understand many things, a different way to relate to the world around me, to loss, to songs and to music.